Vincenzo Nibali may be one of the rare riders to win all three grand tours. But when he was a kid growing up in Sicily it was not the maglia rosa or le maillot jaune that made him dream, but the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. “When I was a kid I was fascinated by the cobblestones. It’s fascinating to watch, especially in the bad weather conditions,” he said back at the start of the 2014 season. And as fate would have it, a 35-year-old rider may have his best chance to fulfill his dream of riding it this year, thanks to the alternative cycling calendar proposed by the UCI, a calendar which slots Roubaix on October 25. And today on the Italian site tuttobiciweb.it, he admitted. “It is the only one [of the classics] I have yet to do. Although it is not very suitable for me, and I never rode it before because it did not arrive at the right time on my calendar. But yes, I’d like to try.”
While few would confuse Nibali with the specialists of the Hell of the North, he rode brilliantly over the same cobbles during the 2014 Tour de France. In what is remembered as one of the most brutal days on the Tour de France, defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race even before the peloton hit the cobbles, while Nibali rivaled the best, finishing third behind Lars Boom on stage five, despite heavy winds and rain which made the cobbles even more treacherous. It was just one of several early stages that Nibali mastered that year, before going on to win the Tour later in Paris.
Of course riding Roubaix would have serious consequences as it is scheduled to be held on the last day of the Giro d’Italia, a race which was to be a focal point of his 2020 season. But the new Giro dates from October 3 to 25, also conflict with other races that suit him like Liège-Bastogne-Liege, and Nibali could potentially focus on the classics in October instead.
That said, it is hard to imagine the Trek-Segafredo rider skipping the Giro this year, as the race is already scheduled to spend much of the first week in his native Sicily, and now with the start in Budapest canceled, the race organizers could well start the race in southern Italy.
But Nibali is not the only grand tour rider that has admitted that he is tempted by Roubaix, and Frenchman Romain Bardet said last week that he too is tempted by the unique opportunity the new calendar offers to ride a race like Roubaix.
Nibali, however, insists that it is too early to say just what races he will focus on, and much of his choices will depend on what races actually run as scheduled, knowing full well that a second wave of COVID-19 in Europe could definitively erase certain events from the 2020 calendar.
But Nibali is a rider that thrives on new challenges, and a late-season Roubaix, could be one of those.